Grow Your Jeans – California Road Trip, October 3

After two long days of I5 driving we were welcomed by the Zen Monks and volunteers of the Green Gulch Farm and Zen Center at Muir Beach, CA.  We had the most amazing vegetarian meals three times a day all grown and prepared at Green Gulch.  We enjoyed quiet meditation sessions in the Zazen (Zen Temple) at sunrise and tours of their Center, the gardens and Muir Beach.  Our accommodation was lovely and the two days spent at the Center is a treasured memory.


We then drove the coast highway stopping at the famous surfing mecca of Stinson Beach before arriving at our prime destination – the Mann Family Farm in Bolinas, CA.  What an amazing event awaited us, making our 2,000 km drive for a four hour event well worth it.  The focus of the Grow Your Jeans event was the coming together of Sally Fox’s organic cotton, dyed with Rebecca Burgess’s Japanese indigo and designed, hand woven and sewn into a beautifully soft and fashionable blue jean.  It was very fitting, as Levi Strauss introduced the blue jean during the California Gold Rush in this same San Francisco area.

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Sally Fox of Viriditas Farm dedicated three decades to breeding a natural coloured cotton with lint long enough to be spun by machine. She farms in the Capay Valley, CA on her certified organic farm and grew the non GMO cotton for the California Fibershed to create denim for the jeans.


These flowering cotton plants are Gossypium barbadense. Sally’s cotton balls grow in various shades of green and brown so can be used without dyeing. She waters her crop every 17 days and harvests in late fall.


Her organic, non GMO cotton was spun in a North Carolina mill, creating a soft cotton thread for the jean fabric.  Sally Fox (second from right) is modelling a handwoven raglan shirt made from her colour and white organic cottons as were all the jeans the models were wearing.  (Photo by Paige Green)


Weaver Leslie Terizan Markoff threaded her floor loom at 64 ends per inch in a warp faced 2/1 twill weaving pattern using thread dyed with Rebecca Burgess’s local organically grown Japanese indigo for the warp. The natural coloured ecru thread was used as the weft at 32 picks per inch.  This creates the diagonal pattern typical of denim, although this fabric is so soft and not like the commercially, chemically produced denim. Designer and award winning pattern maker Daniel DiSanto created a custom fit jean pattern personalized for each wearer. Below he is wearing a tie he designed from scraps of denim left from the jeans with stripes from the selvedges matching the naturally coloured cotton flower on his shirt. (Photo by Paige Green)


Demonstrating hand spinning cotton at the Grow Your Jeans event was Susan Sullivan Maynard (on right) using a charkha spinning wheel. This direct drive, hand turned wheel was used by Mahatma Gandi to spin cotton and assist his people in achieving independence. Due to the typically short cotton fibre it has always been a challenge to spin it.  Susan will be highlighted in the spring Ply Magazine on cotton.


Indigo blue was definitely the color of the day.  For nearly 5,000 years, cultures around the globe have loved the intense blue from many species of indigo.  The Japanese indigo plant grows well in our temperate climate and has become popular with Fibershed communities throughout North America.  The pretty green on the left is colour produced from pounding indigo leaves onto damp cotton to make a print.  On the right we have another shade of indigo in the form of dreadlocks.


The three of us blended into the crowd wearing our locally grown, hand-spun, indigo hand-dyed, felted and knitted garments.  It was fun to finally meet Mary Pettis-Sarley of Twirl Yarns. We first discovered her beautiful Fibershed Yarns in shops along the way to the event and even spotted bags of Twirl fleece waiting to enter the carding machine at the Yolo Wool Mill.


As we moseyed around the Mann Family Farm, mingling with the Fibershed community, we encountered a rack of exquisite “grass-fed” tops and now famous Fibershed blue jeans, later to be modeled in the fashion show.  We learned that Fibershed denim blue is derived wholly from 2 certified organically grown plants:  Gossypium barbadense and Ploygonum tinctorium.  This is done without the use of any toxins.  The synthetic colour of conventional denim when washed, releases dangerous chemicals into the environment.


This gorgeous Veronika knit top is a blend of Cormo, Corriedale and Targhee sheep from three different sources, spun at a local spinnery, naturally dyed with indigo grown by Rebecca Burgess and hand knit locally. The pattern was from a local designer.  The price tag was $550.


These fun, felted and knotted bangles were dyed with indigo grown by Rebecca.


Outside the barn, demos and mini workshops were happening, such as this play opportunity with the indigo dye vats.


Back inside the barn, the fashion show was about to begin and Rebecca introduced the evening with a moving talk about the importance of shedding light and awareness on what we wear and put on our skin, and the need for developing relationships and reconnecting with those who make our clothes. She addressed how the industrial fashion industry needs to be revisioned into a fiber industry, where we ask ourselves in the morning if we are going to wear a plant or an animal today.  She emphasized the need to divest from the chemicals contributing to climate change – those chemicals that provide the stretch and synthetic blue in traditional denim – and was pleased to announce they have removed 100% of chemicals in the Fibreshed denim.


Lovely, sensuous, drapey, indigo dyed tops were the hits at the fashion show.



The final runway item was a large American Flag made of Kentucky grown hemp – the first of its kind in over 100 years.


Outside again we were honored to meet and chat with Craig Wilkinson.  He gave us a quick overview of their Fibershed indigo dye making project.  Craig worked with Rebecca to increase the size of her indigo project from a backyard scale into a 6,000 plant commercial farm in just a few years.  They now have 4 growing sites and many volunteers.  It requires 5000 plants to produce the 440 pounds of dried leaf needed to create a hot enough compost pile.  Bacteria that are added to the compost love heat and eventually break down the leaves leaving the blue pigment called Sukumo behind.  All this requires 100 days of composting with the pile being turned every 7 days.  And to make things even more exciting the Sukumo is built on a special breathable floor made of rice hulls, sand and tamped clay.  Once the Sukomo is done, the fermentation process using hardwood ash begins in the dye vat and eventually the dye is ready for adding to local cotton or wool.  What an inspirational day and immersion into the world of organic “BLUE”!


“The land that feeds us is also the land that clothes us” was the source of the most amazing food and beverage offerings prior to the Grow Your Jeans Fashion Show.  What an amazing display and offering of food and wine grown in the California Fibershed’s landscape!   There was far more food and drink offered than we could comfortably (or politely) indulge in.


After a little more socializing, sadly it came time to leave and drive the dark winding coastal road back to our last night at the Green Gulch.  After one day of touring Sausalito then by ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco we made the drive to San Anselmo for our “Executive Lunch” with Rebecca Burgess, Dustin Kahn and Jess Daniels.   The day had finally arrived for the long anticipated meeting with the heart and soul staff of the original Fibershed in northern California.  There are to date thirty eight Affiliates around the world.


We talked about so many topics such as cotton, hemp, and linen production and milling, woolen mills, carbon farming, likely and unlikely partnerships, community outreach, funding opportunities, clothing designers, the textile industry and cottage industry collaborations.  We came away with such a wonderful feeling of hope for the land and the climate with our shared vision for Fibreshed and the Earth.


What a treat it was to finally make personal contact with these dedicated women who had inspired, supported and helped us make our own Fibreshed – the first Affiliate in Western Canada – something we can all be so proud of.   Four long years of e-mails back and forth had now transformed into a tight personal connection with these three visionary and lovely women.   Cotton, colour, carbon, community and collaboration had brought us to California and we left with so much inspiration, pride and an even stronger commitment to the Fibreshed vision.

Merrily Corder, Lynda Daniells, Deanna Pilling
Thank you to Paige Green for the use of her photographs.  See Paige’s Facebook album for more photos.
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